The University of Utah has found a staggering number of dead birds on campus. In order to combat this issue, The University of Utah Bird Window Collision study was launched. A student working on the project, Erika Kusakabe, said, “Bird strikes are the second leading cause of death for birds.” A bird strike is when a bird gets killed or is stunned from colliding with windows.
Some buildings are more dangerous than others for birds. Kusakabe explained, “Around the Alfred Emery Building (AEB) at the U of U, 20 dead birds were found within four months this past winter. This building is having a huge negative impact on bird populations.”
This phenomenon is not affecting all bird populations equally. Kusakabe explained, “It’s even more of a problem since most of the birds that were killed in that time frame were just one species, the Cedar Waxwings. This project has potential as it can save many future birds around the AEB.”
Many other types of birds have been affected as well. “We have been surprised and disappointed at the variety of birds dying on campus,” said Dr. Barbara Brown. “In addition to the cedar waxwings, robins, and mourning doves that died at Alfred Emery, we found a dead ruffed grouse and flicker at Merrill Engineering and just had a pigeon dying at Marriott Library… As we move toward a sustainable campus, we need to remember that our buildings can help prevent bird deaths or they can attract bird deaths.”
The project has been working hard this semester to gather more data to figure out the best course of action to prevent more deaths. Dr. Brown said, “This fall semester, we are trying to identify places where birds most often die so that we can advocate for preventive measures. We are also conducting systematic observations to test whether bird deaths are less frequent by buildings with bird-friendly windows. Both the law school and the west side of Gardner Commons have windows that are likely more visible to birds.”
With their research, they have been able to do something about AEB. It was the area with the highest amount of deaths recorded at 20 total. Dr. Brown said, “We received a SCIF grant to buy bird strike prevention film from Feather Friendly in Toronto. This film transfers dots onto the window exteriors in a 2 X 2” pattern, a research-based standard for preventing bird strike deaths. We will test whether bird strike deaths decline after applying this treatment. The scaffolding is up now and the film should be installed next week.”
The project is far from over. They are going to continue to collect data for the rest of the semester to see what other areas of campus are deadly to birds.
Students are highly encouraged to participate in the study. The more sets of eyes around campus, the better. Dr. Brown encourages everyone to get involved by looking for dead birds on the ground outside of the windows on campus. “If you see one, take a picture and tell us what side of what building the bird carcass is on. We will retrieve the dead birds and donate them to Biology for research. You can directly upload your picture and see all our pictures at iNaturalist, or you can contact us via text or gmail.”